On October 4-6, Tufara Waller Muhammad, Highlander’s cultural organizer, helped facilitate a workshop on cultural organizing at the fourth annual State of the Nation Art and Performance Festival in Jackson, MS.

This powerful gathering brought together artists, activists, and community residents from across Appalachia and the South for performances, workshops, and dialogue that explored the many issues facing communities in the region and the use of culture as strategy and organizing tool. One of its main goals was to help keep the Gulf Coast in the national spotlight by inviting artists from across the United States to see first-hand the region’s slow rebuilding process.

The performances at the festival ranged from Hip Hop Spoken Word to African Dance, and featured artists from New Orleans that were affected by Hurricane Katrina, as well others from Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida. Tufara reported that they were “some of the best performances I have seen this year. The pieces were well thought out and really connected to the communities that people came from.”

Organizations at the gathering included Appalshop (Whitesburg, KY), ACLU (Mississippi chapter), Center for Civic Participation (NY), I-10 Witness Project (New Orleans), International Museum of Muslim Cultures (Jackson, MS), Junebug Productions (New Orleans/Atlanta/Maryland), Mekye Center (Durham, NC), MUGABEE/ Turner World Around Productions (Raymond, MS), Neighborhood Housing Services (New Orleans), and Southern Echo (Jackson, MS).

The State of the Nation Festival was funded in part by a grant from the We Shall Overcome Fund, which distributes the commercial royalties from the song “We Shall Overcome” to projects that use arts, culture and community activism to organize for social, economic, and political justice to the benefit of African American communities in the South. For more information about the We Shall Overcome Fund, visit www.test.highlandercenter.org/wsoc.asp.